One of the best ways to learn whether a primary teaching career is a good choice for you is to hear from someone who has experience. We interviewed John, a Primary School Teacher in West Yorkshire, who is now in his 27th year in the teaching profession:
Why did you choose to become a Primary School Teacher?
When I did my A levels I still didn't know what to do. At the end of my GCSEs we did work experience and I was put in a nursery. I really enjoyed it, but I thought the children were a bit too young, one and two-year-olds. I thought I might enjoy working with children if they were just a little bit older. That's what I started looking into primary teaching.
What qualifications did you take to become a Teacher?
I went to Teacher Training College for four years. I did a degree in geography as a BA honours and got Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) for those four years as well. I graduated in Early Years, so most of my career has been teaching three to eight-year-olds.
What is a typical day as a Primary School Teacher?
Currently I'm teaching a nursery class of three and four-year-olds. A typical day would be welcoming them in and getting them calmly sitting on the carpet. We do a lot of routine work, where we sing songs to start the day.
Then I teach for 20 minutes followed by play. I then work with small groups and do observations. With this age group, we then need do things such as taking them to the toilet. I repeat that through the morning and then we take them for dinner. Some children go home at lunchtime and others come in the afternoon. I then follow the same sort of routine as in the morning.
If I'm teaching older children, it will be strictly timetabled. So, if I'm teaching year one, two, or three, then I'll be taking a register, and then maybe maths for an hour, and then English for an hour. Then I would have to do playground duty. After that we may do an RE lesson. In the afternoon it's often art and crafts, or a computer lesson. After that it’s marking until about 8 o'clock at night.
I also have to do all the planning for lessons, as well as assessments and reports. I do those in the evenings and on weekends.
What are the best bits about being a Primary School Teacher?
I feel like every day is completely different. I don't see the same four walls; I can take children out, and, when possible, we can go on school trips. It's such a variety of days. Some are fantastic, some are not so good, but I know that not every day is like that. Bad times, you can get through. There are far more overwhelmingly good times.
Most importantly, it’s making a difference, especially in very young children. I can actually see the changes from one start of the year to the next. I always remember my Primary School Teacher so I'm hoping there's a lot of children out there who remember me.
What are the least enjoyable bits about being a Primary School Teacher?
The workload. Schools are so accountable to Ofsted and the governors. There are targets to meet and data to analyse.
Also, there is a lot of marking. If I'm in an older class, like year two, three or four, you can be marking for hours after school and at weekends.
What skills have you developed through being a Primary School Teacher that you wouldn't have gained elsewhere?
I've absolutely had to develop patience and change my expectations. No matter how much you plan, and how much structure you think you've given to a lesson, there will always be some children who don't understand, and you cannot give up on them.
You also have to deal with children who are poorly behaved. I’ve gained resilience and a strong backbone because some children can be quite defiant, so I think you need to be very strong willed. A good sense of humour as well, because the children can laugh at you, and I can have a good laugh with my children.
How has COVID-19 affected your role over the past year?
I've had to learn to teach online - I don't think there's ever going to be a snow day again! We had a short period where we were trained to teach online, and then when the school shut in January, for three months, I delivered lessons online. Because of the age of the children I work with, we didn't do a lot of live teaching. I know further up the school, the older children did lots of live lessons, whereas I only had to do a few. Because I teach very young children, you can’t give them worksheets, so we had to teach through videos for them to watch at home. So I had to film myself teaching and I had to learn to communicate with the parents. I've learnt quite a lot from online learning, just from using the programmes involved.
Also, we have a lot of vulnerable children where I work so we did home visits every week. Between four members of staff, we went to every single child to check on their welfare and safeguarding, and to check they were doing the work. The parents really appreciated that. We stood on the doorstep in rain, wind and snow!
What programmes did you use to teach online?
We use Tapestry, which is familiar to a lot of Early Years Teachers. It's a programme where teachers and parents can share the learning. Teachers can send home photographs and videos of children learning in school for parents to see. When the schools closed, we could use that platform to actually deliver the lessons.
We also used Loom. Loom is a programme where you can show what you are teaching on your computer screen and put yourself in the corner, so the children could still see me teaching live with the whiteboard behind me.
How do you inspire pupils to want to learn?
It's a case of not being a slave to the lesson plans but still keeping the learning objectives in mind. I try to inspire the children by making learning fun, but also productive. I like to bring my own personality into the classroom and be active with the children, encouraging them all to participate.
Do you have plans for any additional qualifications or career progression?
In an ideal world if I had the time and money, I would maybe do a Master's, but that's something way down the line. I think I just like to keep on top of things, reading up on the changes to the new curriculum and everything. I find I'm learning loads of stuff every week through my job, and I'm getting training at the school.
What advice would you give to somebody just starting out in their primary teaching career?
I would say you absolutely need to dedicate a lot of time to it and use your time well. You have to know that you're going to be doing work after hours, but as long as you manage it and keep on top of it, you will be alright.
However, Teachers are very lucky to have the holidays. My first ever Head Teacher said to me, “don't ever feel guilty about the holidays, you've earned them”.
Do you have any top tips for aspiring Primary School Teachers?
It's all in the preparation. Prepare your resources well and don’t be afraid to get back to basics. I've learnt over the years that you can spend a lot of time making a lesson, planning things to show on the whiteboard, when the children would have appreciated it if you had just sat in a circle on the carpet and had something in front of you. At the moment we’re learning about bugs, so I brought in some real bugs. We all sat and looked at them with magnifying glasses. That's better than images on a screen. It just needs a bit of planning and preparation.
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